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Smoke Signals Monthly eMagazine

James NottageThe Economy and Collecting

By James H. Nottage

March, 2009 Smoke Signals

Albert Nottage worked his way through the Great Depression as a locomotive engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad.  Through those hard economic times, he managed to create a world-class collection of American coins.  For him, those were tough financial times, but there were also real opportunities to collect. Just as we have justifiable concerns about money today, these could be good times to collect as well.

In writing about this subject, be assured that I have no crystal ball.  I cannot tell you with certainty about what will happen to the value of great spurs, important saddles, significant Indian objects, or Western paintings.  I can offer opinions about short-term opportunities that as a collector you might keep in mind.

First, there is no doubt that more goods will be coming on the market.  There are those who must sell because of their own financial problems.  Be cautious yourself if you are tempted to sell because of a fear that prices are dropping.  If you really love your collectibles, do not fall into this trap.  Enjoy your collection.  There are older collections coming to the market all the time.  The collector may be settling their affairs or perhaps has passed on and the heirs are disposing of things.  There are still new discoveries of wonderful items coming out of the woodwork.  This may in fact be one of the best times to buy if you are in a position to do so.

There are a few words of caution.  Be selective.  Spend your money wisely and consider those factors that are always true in developing a strong collection with pieces that are going to best maintain their value long term.  Buy the best you can based on condition.  Be selective by rejecting those that have been recently, inappropriately, and poorly repaired or modified to represent something they are not.  Pay attention to the provenance of each item.  If it has historical documentation about who, where, or when it was used, be critical of that documentation.  Consider various factors of rarity.  Is the maker an uncommon one?  Is the model or type unique or less common than others or is it one that collectors compete for because of different factors.  Is it well executed?  Not all goods from any given producer are their best work in finish or materials.

It is as true in bad economic times as it is in good.  The important pieces are going to get the best price.  The most competition is going to be for the best goods.  Yes, a tough economy may well trim down the number of buyers competing for any given item in a sale or auction.  This logically can pull down the prices.  Remember, however, it only takes two enthusiastic bidders to drive a price up.  Frankly, I expect to see those who are in a position to add to their collections in this market anticipating bargains.  Hopefully, you are one of those individuals.  It is the passions of collectors that will sustain the market and it is your passions that will make the annual gatherings at sales, shows, and auctions the wonderfully friendly events that we all look forward to.

Just as my grandfather nurtured his coin collection beyond the scary times of the Great Depression, you can maintain your collection and see it grow into the future.

James Nottage
Chief Curatoral Officer, Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, IN
Founding Curator, Autry National Center, Los Angeles
Husband of Mary Ellen Hennessy Nottage

© Copyright 2009 - James W. Nottage

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